U.S. vows to give world proof

USA TODAY | Septemver 23, 2001
By Laurence McQuillan

WASHINGTON The United States, setting the stage to retaliate against suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and his Afghan protectors, pledged Sunday to prove his guilt to the world soon while proceeding with its military buildup in the region. Even before such a formal presentation of evidence, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll found historic levels of support among Americans for President Bush and overwhelming approval for the use of military force in the war on terrorism. In the poll, 90% said they approve of the way the president is performing the highest since job-approval polling began in 1938.
 
Of those polled, 92% said they are braced for a long fight, and 88% backed military action. Just 7% opposed military action of any kind. Nearly 7,000 people are presumed dead in the attacks Sept. 11 in which hijacked jets destroyed the World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon and crashed in Pennsylvania.

Historically, support for presidents is highest in times of war. The president's father, George Bush, had the previous record for public approval: 89% in March 1991, after the Gulf War. Franklin Roosevelt enjoyed 84% approval in 1942, during World War II.

Meanwhile, the United States said it will answer earlier calls by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia for proof of bin Laden's guilt.

"In the near future, we will be able to put out ... a document that will describe quite clearly the evidence that we have linking him to this attack," Secretary of State Colin Powell said on NBC's Meet the Press. He did not elaborate.

As the U.S. military buildup continued, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld downplayed the idea of a massive assault to get bin Laden. "Is it likely that an aircraft carrier or a cruise missile is going to find a person?" Rumsfeld asked reporters. "No, it's not likely. That isn't how this is going to happen."

In other developments:

  • As early as today, Bush is expected to sign an order to freeze the assets of groups that aid bin Laden. It expands a similar order signed in 1998 by President Clinton to freeze the Saudi exile's holdings.
  • The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said efforts to ask bin Laden to leave Afghanistan have failed because he can't be found. Bin Laden, a dissident Saudi multimillionaire, has used Afghanistan as a sanctuary since 1996. "We don't simply believe it," White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told Fox News Sunday.
  • Powell praised Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's "courageous" decision to support the United States and said he was confident the government will withstand pressure from Muslim groups. U.S. sanctions imposed in 1998 because of nuclear testing by Pakistan were lifted over the weekend.
  • Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan denied reports that his country refused to let U.S. jets use its air bases for strikes. "The policy is still evolving, and we have not been told any specifics," Bandar said.
  • European diplomats head to the Mideast today to shore up U.S.-led efforts to build a coalition against terrorism. Britain's foreign minister, Jack Shaw, visits Iran while top officials of the European Union begin a similar mission in other countries.
  • At Camp David, Bush observed the raising of the flag to full staff, ending a 12-day mourning period.
Contributing: Bill Nichols and Barbara Slavin in Washington and Elliot Blair Smith in Brussels